UW-Milwaukee Student Makes Huge Impact at Milwaukee Food Pantry


Student and community leader continues to help people living below the poverty level

MILWAUKEE, WI – March 26, 2019 – A Community Leaders Internship Program participant continues to serve under-privileged families in the inner-city of Milwaukee. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) student, Amaya Varela, has been serving with Friedens Community Ministries: Coggs Food Pantry since her sophomore year. Friedens is a non-profit food pantry that’s part of a network of 5 total pantries. Friedens is located in the 53205-zip code and according to U.S. Census Bureau data from years 2013-2017, the zip code is home to a large African American population (8,150) as well as 44.6% of individuals living below the poverty level. Serving at Friedens gives Amaya the opportunity to assist people who are in need that live below the poverty line.

Amaya’s responsibilities mainly include intake, where she briefly interviews pantry users. When needed, she also serves as a pantry attendant and walks community members through the pantry. 

“My job is important because it is the first impression community members have of the pantry. It is expected that volunteers and employees be sincere, compassionate, and helpful.” – Amaya Varela, UW-Milwaukee Junior.

The pantry receives regulars’ patrons but also sees many new faces. Friedens is very diverse and inclusive and serves a wide range of cultures, ethnicities, ages, abilities, etc. The environment at Friedens is warm, welcoming, and accepting of these differences on behalf of the volunteers, employees, and pantry-users. Amaya believes some aspects of her community work that are exciting are meeting new people, helping them and making their day! Amaya wants to share with others the importance of being involved with the community.

“When I first began working at Friedens, I had low confidence in myself, I was very shy, and I was nervous it would not be a good fit for me. Eventually, I gained confidence in my ability to do intake and connect with others. Now, I cannot imagine myself anywhere else. I love my job and I feel a sense of pride working at Friedens.” – Varela. 

Before coming to UW-Milwaukee, Amaya had never interacted with or served a predominately black community because of where she grew up. Working at Friedens was a key turning point in Amaya’s college experience because she began to build relationships with the surrounding communities that she may serve one day as a Social Worker. As a result, Amaya is invested in bettering the community and supporting those who are most vulnerable to issues like poverty, homelessness and food insecurity in Milwaukee. 

“My work at Friedens has positively shaped me as a student, professional, and person. With this, I hope more people are inspired to volunteer in their community and make a difference for themselves and others!” – Amaya Varela, UW-Milwaukee Junior.

Amaya Varela is a junior at UW-Milwaukee. She majors in Social Work and pursuing a minor in Spanish. Amaya participates in the Community Leaders Internship Program hosted through the Center for Community-Based Learning, Leadership, and Research (CCBLLR) at UWM. The Community Leaders Internship Program (CLIP) engages work-study eligible students by placing them in community-based work-study jobs at local non-profit agencies and public schools in the Milwaukee metro area. CLIP students work between 6-10 hours per week at their work-study site and earn between $10.00 and $14.00 an hour. Participants in the program will also enroll in 1 credit course during the program. Students in CLIP will reflect on their experiences as a group during class time. The course, complementing work experience, is aimed at the development of critical thinking and effective communication skills as well as a sense of intercultural competence and individual, social, and environmental responsibility. The goal of the program is not only to provide students with an opportunity to earn their work study award at a non-profit or school, it also seeks to provide a learning experience that develops civic responsibility and prepares students for their future careers.

CCBLLR partners with the community to inspire students, faculty, and staff to engage in activities that foster enduring personal and social change. CCBLLR moves UWM to the next level by improving the student civic and leadership experience through a holistic and seamless approach to community engagement. Overall, the CCBLLR will ensure greater impact and success in UWM fulfilling its civic mission and providing well-developed leaders for our communities.